According to a California Public Policy Institute poll conducted June 2000, traffic is the No. 1 concern among San Diegans.

In 1987, San Diego County voters passed a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation improvements. The TransNet tax provides the biggest pot of locally generated money for transportation projects. The current transportation tax expires in 2008. It currently is used to support construction bonds, so that important projects don't have to wait until the cash from the tax is available in order to begin. If you look at a list of current projects paid in part by TransNet funds, it becomes clear how important this revenue is: State Route 56, the Interstates 5 and 805 merge, State Route 52, State Route 125, Mission Valley East Trolley line, new trolley and Coaster stations, hundreds of buses and the expansion of dozens of major arterial roads from Carlsbad to Chula Vista. That half-cent builds the roads, freeways and transit that we all use every day.

Last July, an item concerning placing an extension of the TransNet tax on the November 2000 ballot was hastily brought before San Diego’s regional transportation planning agency, SANDAG. (Any extension of transportation taxes requires a two-thirds majority vote of the citizens.)The proposal brought before the Board of SANDAG was not for a simple extension of the half-cent tax, however. Inconceivably, proponents planned to redistribute TransNet revenues away from transportation projects to pay for habitat preservation and water conservation and clean-up projects, including the scientifically-unsupported Multiple Species Conservation Plan.

Last year’s proponents of the TransNet extension pointed to a poll commissioned by The Nature Conservancy, which showed 67% of voters would support extending the tax to pay for $7 billion in transportation improvements and environmental protection (margin of error at +/- 4.4%). Proponents were extremely reticent about providing polling results to be reviewed by the Board so that they could review survey questions and methodology.

TransNet’s half-cent tax was always intended for transportation. Currently, TransNet revenues are exclusively used for transportation projects and divided evenly three ways: transit projects, highways and local streets.

Under the new proposal, transportation would have only received 70 percent of TransNet funds, which would then be carved up in four parts: 25 percent each for highways, transit, local streets and the board's "discretion." The measure guaranteed that the transportation projects got at least 17.5 percent each of the tax revenues and any could collect up to 35 percent. When you do the math, this translates into a decrease in funding for transportation projects by half.

After hours of public testimony and debate among the Board members on the appropriateness of rushing through such a hastily designed measure, SANDAG’s Board unanimously voted against placing the tax extension, as proposed, on the November ballot saying the timing was wrong, the spending plan lacked a clear plan for easing traffic congestion, and there was too much opposition.

On Sunday, April 1st, Supervisor Slater proposed once again placing TransNet on the November ballot to fund improvements for our County’s transportation system. While the bulk of her article was devoted to advocating a new Flex-Trolley system for the County (a classier stage name for proverbial busses), she conveniently omitted any discussion of her drive last year to carve up TransNet to pay for the fraudulent developer-led habitat mitigation program, the MSCP.

However, at the beginning of her editorial, she did note her meetings with other proponents of last year’s failed TransNet debacle. It should be pointed out that two of those participants at her meeting, the Alliance for Habitat Conservation and Endangered Habitats League, are negotiators for the real estate and development industries who stand to win big if TransNet is approved for funding open space acquisition.

Using TransNet monies to facilitate sprawl development in the name of the MSCP not only further corrupts a plan with its own designated funding source, it diverts attention away from what is indisputably the leading cause of our region’s transit problems, the unwillingness of our county’s elected leaders to deal responsibly and effectively with growth.

It has been noted that solutions to our region’s transportation problems are hard to implement because growth in San Diego County has fed sprawl and sprawl makes it difficult to provide mass transit. Exactly. But if sprawl is the problem, why do the supervisors champion trolleys over urban growth boundaries? Urban growth boundaries contain growth patterns so that transit systems can be viable, open space protected, and needed investments directed to existing urban areas. A Public Policy Institute poll of San Diego citizens in June 2000 found 67% support urban growth boundaries to contain sprawl.

How can our land-use custodians, the Board of Supervisors, pretend to be opponents of sprawl when it’s precisely their own land-use decisions that have created the problem? Supervisor Slater, along with her colleagues, voted for GPA 96-03, the general plan amendment that would destroy San Diego’s backcountry. She fought against the Rural Heritage and Watershed Initiative, which is the only legitimate plan to protect the backcountry from sprawl development. And she joined her colleagues in approving the 4S Ranch development, which the project’s Environmental Impact Report estimates will create waits on metered I-15 onramps and residential streets in Rancho Bernardo of up to and over an hour.

As our region’s water, infrastructure, open space, traffic, and energy crises bear down on San Diego County residents like five horsemen of the Apocalypse, San Diego’s Board of Supervisors can no longer hide behind smart growth conferences, clean water conferences, or new mass transit proposals to avoid responsibility for the present critical state of our county’s economic and environmental health. The “bold action” called for by supervisor Slater must be a challenge taken up by the supervisors themselves in establishing economically and environmentally sound land-use criteria that preserve what’s left of our county’s natural resources and prevent the further contamination of our waterways and beaches.

The County Supervisors should abandon its planning models based on population density and concentrate on drawing urban growth boundaries so that long-term investments in public transit, open space, and desperately needed infrastructure for our urban areas can truly serve our present and future generations.

Without sustainable public policies that value the natural and man-made resources we have left, our region could become a wasteland as tragically beyond hope as anything in Los Angeles. If that’s what the supervisors have in mind for San Diego County, shame on them.

This issue is expected to come before SANDAG again sometime this summer.

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